It happens to every customer service representative: A customer calls with a concern or a new order, and after you’ve finished the conversation, he still wants to chat. To be polite, you converse with him for another 15 minutes while anxiously watching the clock.
You want to be nice, but you’ve got mountains of work to do. How can you end the conversation without offending your talkative customer?
Here are some techniques to end a chat politely:
- “I had better let you go.” This simple phrase shows the customer that you value his time, but also signals the end of the phone call.
- “Before I go…” Try sneaking this phrase into your conversation. Ask the customer, “Before I go, can I do anything else for you today?” This shows that you do have other tasks to attend to, but ensuring their satisfaction has to come first.
Crucial: A stellar customer service rep will always thank the customer for calling. Your courtesy will ensure that they’ll call again if they need your help — and it’ll let them know that you appreciate them.
Most people decide to embrace or reject a person within the first seconds of meeting her, studies show. Likewise, when handling your customers, what you say in the first few moments of a conversation is crucial.
In fact, what you say during a telephone call may be even more important because you do not have the benefit of body language. To keep phone customers responsive to your words, the Beryl Institute offers the following four tips:
- Greet your customers with phrases like, “I’ll be glad to help you.”
- Use your customer’s name frequently to let her know that you are personally interested.
- Treat every customer as if she were your first of the day. Every call is unique.
- Be flexible in finding solutions that are within company guidelines but satisfy your customers.
Your government agency or call center may be monitoring calls for “quality assurance or training purposes,” as the recording says. But you’ll encounter callers who don’t want their call recorded for privacy reasons. What can you do if you encounter such resistance?
First, you must check your agency’s policies regarding callers who request that you not record the conversation. These policies will most likely dictate what you can do in general. Here are some more specific options:
- Explain to the customer the upside of recording the call, such as recording the call ensures accuracy and you can check the tape if a question arises about the customer’s inquiry.
- Transfer the call to a phone line that isn’t connected to recording equipment.
Bottom line: Don’t record the conversation against the customer’s wishes. This could be illegal.
Transferring calls can be a sticky moment in any phone transaction. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently hang up on a customer or transfer him to the wrong person.
But you can put your customers at ease with transfers by trying the following tips from business etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey, author of Manners That Sell — Adding the Polish That Builds Profits:
- Hear the customer out. Even if you know you’ll need to transfer the customer before she finishes speaking, resist the urge to interrupt. She might say something that will make you reconsider where to send her call.
- Explain to the customer why you need to transfer her. Doing so will let her know that you’re not just passing the buck.
- Avoid saying “transfer.” Use the words “send,” “connect” or “put you through” instead.
- Make sure you’re redirecting the call to the right person. If you’re not sure where to send the call, put the caller on hold while you check. It’s worth sacrificing a few moments of the customer’s time to appear organized and in control.
When the phone lines start lighting up, you can’t lose your cool. If there is more than one caller on the line, not only do you have to prioritize calls, you have to check with individual callers to see if they are okay with being put on hold.
Here’s what you should do when the phone lines are going crazy (so you and your customers don’t go crazy too):
- Get The Caller’s Permission First. Never put a customer on hold unless she agrees to it. Asks the caller if it is alright with her — never just assume it’s okay. Example: “X Corporation, Alice speaking … would you mind holding for a minute, please?”
- Deal With The Squeaky Wheel. If a customer does not want to be put on hold, go ahead and help her with what she needs. If she is upset about something, you need to address her concerns right away.
- Check Back With Holders Often. Check on each customer every one or two minutes. This practice shows that you are concerned about her and helps you gauge if the person is getting upset at the wait. Tip: Try to read the tone of the customer on hold. If she sounds aggravated when you check back on her, deal with her immediately, even if she says she does not mind waiting. Some people may be annoyed at the wait, but too polite or timid to mention it when you ask about it.
- Two At A Time May Be Enough. While you should strive to help as many customers as possible, don’t overextend yourself. If you have more than two people on hold at a time, you might get the customers, and their needs, confused.
- Respond To Voice Mails Promptly. After the phone activity subsides, retrieve (and respond to) all the messages that went to voicemail. If you don’t bother to respond, your organization’s reputation will suffer in the eyes of the caller.